Ridgewood’s tiny, punk rock Vietnamese food phenom Bunker is ready to show off its bigger, newer digs. Chef and co-owner Jimmy Tu first opened the restaurant on a largely industrial stretch of Metropolitan Avenue in 2013, and despite being in an industrial neighborhood, his version of Vietnamese street food quickly attracted an audience and weeknight waits.
Opening on Thursday, the restaurant is now much closer to the L train, and with a bar and more than three times the space, people who make the trek will have a place to hang out before their meal. “It felt like we needed it,” Tu says. “We outgrew the old spot. We had more people waiting out there, where there’s all these trucks. It wasn’t pleasant.”
Bunker may be growing up, but it’s not trying to be grown-up. The 70-or-so seats are made up of brightly colored, mismatched chairs and benches, while paper lanterns and colored lights decorate the space. Although the new digs are more accessible than the original, Bun-Ker, at 99 Scott Ave., is still a destination. Besides the other businesses in the building (a cocktail bar and meadery called Honey’s, a mushroom farm business called Smallhold), it’s surrounded by factories.
To attract people, Tu and his team plan to give it a lively, party vibe with live music, DJs, and special dinners like Vietnamese seafood boils. Eventually, they’ll build a rooftop and outdoor space with a tropical vibe for events. “We’re about a fun atmosphere with music,” he says. “We want to provide serious food, good service. We’re able to do all of that out here. We can make as much noise as we want. Nobody’s going to be complaining.”
The menu is considerably larger than the Ridgewood offerings. Tu wants to introduce more classic Vietnamese dishes to New York, which, he says, doesn’t have the ambitious Vietnamese restaurants of other cities. “I don’t think it’s well represented in the city, even compared to Philly or Minnesota or Virginia, where there’s a bigger concentration of Vietnamese community,” he says. “We’re way behind.” Expect dishes like bún chả, a grilled pork sausage and pork belly dish with vermicelli, and cá chiên, a whole fish that used to only be offered as a special. Beef pho, catfish banh mi, pork spring rolls, and papaya salad are also available.
Everything on the menu aims to be true to homestyle Vietnamese cooking, with carefully sourced ingredients. People sometimes complain about the pricing at Bunker, where a beef pho costs $18, so here, the menu notes grass-fed beef in the pho, mushrooms grown in-house, and heritage breeds for the pork belly. Freshness is key to Tu, he says, and it costs more for the ingredients he wants. “Food is sacred,” he says. “I feel a responsibility where I’m cooking for people. I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.”
Bunker opens with a limited dinner menu on Thursday. Lunch and a retail store will debut later this month. Check out the full menu below, and stay tuned for photos of the space and more soon.